Last time I checked, there were at least 10 major multi-stage music festivals happening across India this month—and that’s not counting Chennai’s Margazhi season and Pune’s Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav. Beginning with the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune (1 -3 December), Echoes of Earth in Bengaluru (2-3 December) straight up to the Hornbill Music Festival in Nagaland (1-10 December), Magnetic Fields in Rajasthan (15-17 December), the Mahindra Kabira Festival in Varanasi (15-17 December) and Sunburn Goa (28-31 December), you could do a cross-country trip and listen to music of all genres this month.
Concert-goers have never had it so good. Tej Brar, festival director of Bacardi NH7 Weekender, recalls how a little over a decade ago, NH7 Weekender was the only “multi-stage music festival” that indie music lovers had. “Today, we have an audience that is willing to pay but there’s too much competition in the space. Ultimately, we are all fighting for the same bucks,” he wryly notes.
A sample of the FOMO-inducing headlining acts who will be performing at the music festivals this month includes desert blues pioneers Tinariwen from Mali and Indian American singer Sid Sriram at Echoes of Earth; rock legends Deep Purple and Goo Goo Dolls for the inaugural edition of BookMyShow Live’s Bandland music festival in Bengaluru (16-17 December), and NH7 has British rapper, singer and record producer M.I.A. as the headliner. Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai is set to perform in Bengaluru on 8 December at the LiveBox Festival. “I wanted to go for NH7, Echoes and Bandland. I felt like I was spoilt for choice,” says Sandhya Surendran, an independent media and entertainment lawyer based in Bengaluru.
So, what explains this “happening scene”? Mainly the growing interest among international artists to perform in India. “There’s no escaping India at this point of time,” says Roshan Netalkar, founder and festival director of Echoes of Earth. He says the country’s “youth population” is the reason why international musicians and talent management companies are taking note. Couple it with no pandemic-related travel restrictions and protocols, and you can see why there’s an upsurge in bigger names on the marquee. While it’s the international acts that are generating the buzz, Munbir Chawla, co-founder and music and partnerships director of Magnetic Fields, lends a new perspective.
“What’s noteworthy is the jump in festivals signing up domestic musicians too. There’s a good balance of both Indian and international artists,” says Chawla. Surendran believes the increase in Indian indie names in lineups could be attributed to Indian audiences “slowly opening up to non-filmi music.”
Any festival curator will tell you that having a wish list of artists is one thing and getting them in real life is a whole other ballgame. “We’ve been trying for Tinariwen for four years. It finally worked this year,” laughs Netalkar, who describes the curation process as a tiresome one that goes on all year. “We have already started reaching out to artists for next year.”
For Brar, the work of drawing up the “ultimate lineup” is about balancing gut with data. “It means booking a rapper like YG who is huge among youngsters here along with a band like Ezra Collective who are great but have no data to back them,” Brar explains.
Chawla describes curation as a balancing act between “bringing in artists who sell and those who match with our vision of being an experiential festival”. This explains the eclectic, unique mix of performers that Magnetic Fields always hosts. This year, the festival's line-up includes afrobeat legend and Fela Kuti collaborator Dele Sosimi, Bahrain-based duo Dar Disku, Melbourne's mysterious music makers Glass Beams and DJs like Or:la, Hudson Mohawke, Yu Su among others.
So, whether it’s going by gut or being led by a festival’s vision, one can safely say that the formula has worked well this year. One hopes 2024 will be even more musical. But for now, it’s time to press pause and head to a music festival near you.